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News & Comments - Kent Independent Education Advice

News and Comments

The latest news posted by Peter J Read; just click on a news item below to read it in full. Feel free to subscribe to the news via the email link to the right or the RSS Feed at the bottom of the page. Please note that the over 1500 regular subscribers who receive each news item directly are not included in the number of readers recorded below the item, who have gone beyond the headlines to look at the full article.  If you have a view on any item posted, please leave a comment.

Some more specific items appear in Peter's Blog, so its also worth checking there.  

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News items below appear below as and when I have time in a very busy life.

Revised 1st December

Leigh Academies Trust, which took over the failed Brook Learning Trust, is consulting on plans to change the nature of Hayesbrook School, once the flagship of the Trust but now struggling badly.

Hayesbrook is one of just two single sex boys’ schools in the county, and the proposal is for it to also admit girls. A press release issued on Monday gives the main reason as being its unpopularity with families, quoting the data in my article ‘Oversubscription & Vacancies: Kent Non-Selective Schools 2021’, which shows it having  the third lowest number of admission first choices in the county. The press release goes on to claim that the unpopularity is because it is a boys' school, although my analysis below suggests this is only part of the picture.

Hayesbrook 1

The reality is that Hayesbrook School has been badly managed for several years, as I identified in an article earlier this year, when looking at the appalling Brook Learning Trust which has now handed its three schools over to Leigh. It has already decided to close one of them, High Weald Academy, whilst Ebbsfleet Academy, after a disastrous period under a 'no excuses' headteacher, appears to be slowly settling down and then there is Hayesbrook! What a turnaround from 2015, when it achieved the highest GCSE performance in the county for non-selective schools (excluding three highly selective church schools). In January this year it had 368 pupils in Years 7-11, less than half the capacity 755, and so had to subsist on a handout from KCC of £297,000.

Back in 2017 the Trust's auditors expressed significant doubts about whether it could continue to operate unless finances improved, as confirmed by the Trustees. The warning was repeated the next year, but then Brook Learning Trust's response was to deny everything, change auditors so that there were no further doubts expressed, and sit tight until the money ran out, which appears to be the case at both Hayesbrook and High Weald.  

This is an update of an article I previously published last December, following a survey of admission to the Sixth Forms and the largest non-selective school Sixth Forms, which has already been visited nearly six thousand times. I am republishing it as a support for students and their families looking for a Sixth Form course in school in 2022. This edition includes more information and details of further schools who ran larger Sixth Forms in 2020 (I don't have the 2021 information  yet). 

There appears limited advice and information to many Year 11 students on what their Sixth Form options are outside their own school, so a year ago I carried out an extensive analysis, looking at all 38 grammar schools across Kent and Medway and those 37 non-selective (N/S) schools running 6th Forms with an intake of over eighty students in 2019. This article is an update, including looking at nine more N/S schools that met my cut off according to the October 2020 school census. Somewhat to my surprise, I discovered that over a quarter of 6th form students in both grammar and N/S schools were in different schools for Year 11, with a healthy 15% of the total 6th Form numbers in grammars having transferred from N/S schools.  There is no co-ordinated admission system for 6th Form admission, so students can apply for as many schools as they wish. Whilst the number of external students to be admitted is theoretically capped, individual schools interpret this limitation in different ways, with many never reaching the limit. 

I believe this study is unique but is intended to encourage more young people to reflect and make a decision about what is best for them, rather than just carry on in the same school without making a positive decision, although this will still be right for most. 

The school with by some way the largest 6th Form intake from outside is the non-selective (N/S) Canterbury Academy admitting 294 students from other schools, including 46 from grammar and private schools and 63 from abroad. It is followed in percentage terms by Simon Langton Boys Grammar, also in Canterbury with 160 external students including 86 from other grammar schools.

I look at some of the issues below, including a look across the county by District, what I have long maintained are unlawful conditional offers for entry to school 6th Forms, and the sadly most newsworthy school of all, the debacle at The Rochester Grammar School. I am afraid I am not able look at the wide range of alternative options, the free KM magazine The Next Step covering many of the possibilities. 

Thursday, 11 November 2021 23:12

Exclusions in Kent and Medway Schools, 2020-21

Update 23 November: I have just discovered that the 1120 suspensions in 2017-18, which is equivalent to 82.3% of the total secondary roll of Folkestone Academy, was over twice as high a proportion as any other Kent secondary school in the surrounding three years (the latest available). At the time the school was led by Dr Jo Saxton, recently appointed Regulator of Ofqual, who believes, along with one of her gurus that: Behaviours that lead to exclusions happen when students perceive there to be no limits and no expectations and no rules’. Next came Bishopsgarth Academy in Stockport in 20191-20, with just 40.3%.  

Covid continues to exercise a strong effect on school exclusions across Kent and Medway primary and secondary schools, with a third fewer fixed term cases in 1920-21, compared to pre-pandemic 2018-19. Much of the decrease will be down to all schools being closed for 39 school days in the lockdown last year, and a sharply increased pupil absence brought about by children infected or else closely connected with another child who has contracted the condition.  

Waterfront UTC in Medway, a regular in the list of secondary high excluding schools, heads it for 2020-21 with an astonishing 46% of the statutory roll figure, although a number of these will be pupils with multiple exclusions. Victory Academy, also in Medway comes second with a remarkable increase from 66 fixed term exclusions pre-pandemic two years previously to a record 403, being the equivalent of 42.1% of the statutory roll. This follows a Special Ofsted Inspection into reported concerns about the behaviour and attitudes of pupils, see below. Other  schools regularly in the list are Astor College, also on 42.1%, High Weald Academy 38.9% (now closing permanently next summer), John Wallis CofE Academy on 38.1% and Charles Dickens School on 33.1%, together with the other local University Technical College, the Leigh UTC, with 28.8%, and Robert Napier School in Medway with 22.5% . The average exclusion rate across Kent’s Non-Selective schools was 10.6%.

The number of exclusions at many primary schools varies considerably year on year, probably a property of small numbers, with a single case of a child attracting multiple exclusions capable of making a significant difference. However, overall numbers have been falling significantly for each of the past three years, They are led in 2020-21 by Northdown Primary School in Thanet with 11.4% of its roll number excluded, up from just 4% the previous year. The Inspire Free School in Medway, a secondary special school catering mainly for children with Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs, deserves particular mention, excluding each of its 44 children 1.75 times on average. However, this is lower than 2019-20’s incredible 2.2 times, a unique record for any institution across Kent and Medway, and explored further below, along with two other Special Schools.   

There was a total of just three permanent exclusions in primary schools and eight in secondaries across Kent, a record low, with the story of how the secondary figure has been brought down from 161 ten years ago, and my part in it, told below.  Medway had 11 permanent exclusions, all from secondary schools, also a record low. 

I also look at the latest published national and local Authority data below for 2019-20, including Kent's remarkable sixth lowest proportion of secondary permanent exclusions out of 150 LAs. Both Kent and Medway are also below average in the number of fixed term exclusions carried out. 

Wednesday, 10 November 2021 17:13

Closure of High Weald Academy Confirmed

Leigh Academies Trust has confirmed the closure of High Weald Academy in Cranbrook, in a press release issued today. As my previous article makes clear, I believe the decision was inevitable, but also that regrettably it is right. I am so sorry for all the families caught up in this tragedy, brought about by the failure of the leaders of the previous Brook Learning Trust who have let down the pupils of all the three schools for which they were responsible.

Sadly, the current generation of pupils at High Weald will pay a price for that failure. It is now up to Leigh to minimise the damage this will cause, as the pupils make a potentially traumatic change of school, leaving their own locality for a future education miles away, that we must assume will be a considerable improvement on what has been offered previously.

At the time of the announcement, there were around 200 pupils in Years 7-10 at the school, but this number has already fallen to just 75 as most parents have already made their own arrangements for alternatives, ahead of the plan to offer all pupils places at Mascalls School by the end of this school year. It must already appear to be a ghost school to those who remain in the new premises opened less than two years ago at a cost of some £13 million. 

High Weald 2

Friday, 29 October 2021 12:03

School Appeals in Kent and Medway 2021

Updated 31st October

This article looks at Year Seven and primary school appeals in Kent and Medway for admission in September 2021. This has been the second year under the Covid pandemic, and once again no school appeals have been conducted with the previously normal face-to-face hearings.  I looked at this issue previously in the 2020 article with all appeals being conducted by video or telephone conferencing or else, as in the majority of cases, by panels considering the paper evidence submitted. The government has announced more flexibility of process for 2022 appeals, to allow them to take place  'in person, or by telephone, video conference or through a paper-based appeal where all parties can make representations in writing'.

The number of successes in Kent grammar school hearings is almost identical to 2020, with 443 grammar appeals upheld,  although the number of hearings fell sharply by 17% to 1628.  The number of successes in non-selective schools (N/S) is also very similar to 2020 at 145, although here the number of appeals rose by the same 17% to 853. N/S schools outcomes fluctuate considerably each year as not only do the schools often increase their intake to meet need, but they also lose variable numbers to grammar schools after their own appeals. Medway grammar school appeals repeat the regular and disgraceful discrimination against boys, seen also in the selection process. 

There were no successes at all for the 268 appeals to Kent and Medway primary schools conducted by KCC Panels where infant class legislation applies (see below for an explanation).

I look at the appeal outcomes of all individual secondary schools more closely below.

Six years ago, Kent County Council tightened up its regulations (page 16) on home addresses declared on primary school admission applications following my lobbying about the issue over previous years. However, whilst the rules for county-maintained secondary schools may be similar, the explanation (page 11) of how they operate appears to have been designed primarily so as not to offend anyone. In the same vein, many academies treat this issue as one of minimal importance and, for example, the Eleven Plus website regularly contains discussion of short term temporary addresses to secure places, for example posted two days ago: ‘I live in London and the cut-off date for CAF is 31st of October….If I can get a rental agreement in place before 1st of Nov I can apply to Kent directly’.  I have written two previous articles on this issue here and here, having lobbied for several years previously without effect. One problem is that KCC delegates responsibility for investigating and establishing such fraudulent applications even for its own schools, including small primaries.

A few Kent schools treat this issue with the seriousness it observes, notably Tunbridge Wells Girls’ Grammar which sets out its rules and the consequences of breaking them very clearly, see below.

I appreciate that some of those parents who use devices to secure places at the schools that break the rules don't see themselves as committing fraud and don't think about the children deprived of places by their actions. A previous Schools Adjudicator, previously a Deputy Director of Education for Kent,  came up with ten  'popular' means of outwitting the system. However, I have no intention of reproducing these and, because few are picked up, there is no way of estimating the scale of the problem.   

I appreciate this is not the best year for schools to commit additional resources to identify such cases, but it would send out a powerful message if more schools would investigate possibilities One simple device for secondary schools is to look at the current primary school of the child and if it is out of area to investigate further! 

Article on School Appeal Outcomes for 2021 here

Updated and revised 27 October, with further data provided by KCC. 

Headline News: 190 more Kent state school boys passed the Kent Test than last year whilst the number of girls qualifying for a grammar school place fell by 52. For the first time in several years, boys secured most passes, 2325 against the girls 2185. The shift in passes from East Kent to West Kent is reported to have continued. 

The Kent Test results have again produced a pass mark with an aggregate score of 332, with an additional requirement to score 109 on each of the three sections - English, mathematics, and reasoning, one up on last year’s individual test pass mark.  The level of pass marks is no indication of difficulty in the Test, rather a complex standardisation of raw scores against a national sample of children, comparing like ages with each other. This year 25.8% of the cohort, comprising all of Kent’s Year six children in primary schools, added to all Kent private school pupils who took the Test, were found selective. This is up from last year’s 25.4%, but down on 2019’s 26.6%. The intention is to select 21% of the cohort through the Kent Test each year, along with another four percent by Headteacher Assessment, as explained here, making up a target of 25%.

The number of state school children taking the Kent Test has risen by 474 this year, the increase being mainly boys, but is still not back to the number in 2019. I don't at present know what to make of the shift from girls to boys qualifying for grammar school.

3113 children from Out of County and other groups such as those being home educated were also found selective, up from 3062 last year,  although these turned into just 460 offers of Kent grammar school places.  

I have been told that the differential between pass rates in East and West Kent has widened further, as discussed extensively in previous articles, most recently at Covid-19 and the Kent Grammar School Selection Process for 2022 Entry’, but as yet have no confirmation of this.  This results from KCC’s failure to compensate for the effects of Covid on ‘ordinary’ and disadvantaged families in the selection process. I have still to learn the detail of this but have been told for example, that in Swale, an area with a high number of socially disadvantaged families, the pass rate is again lower. I have talked with a number of school leaders in the East of the county and according to them, along with many reports in the media, there is no doubt that pupil absence, teacher absence and other factors over the past two years have played havoc with the learning of too many children, many of whom have the ability to thrive in grammar schools but have now been denied a place.

Please note that this article was initially produced to meet the deadline for secondary school admissions and will be revised as I learn more details. I explore further below all the matters in this introduction, along with sections on Sources of Information and Advice on admissions and appeals, Out of County Children, Pressure Points and Finally

Article on School Appeal Outcomes for 2021 to be posted shortly. 

This news item is essentially a guide to a host of information and advice articles for local families looking to make applications for secondary school places in state schools in Kent and Medway next September, together with 2021 appeal outcomes. You will find Kent County Council's Admission Guide for Secondary School Admissions here, although it is difficult to find one for Medway (although required by law), so parents appear to have to settle for here. Across the country, families will be making use of their own Local Authority co-ordinated admissions schemes and make applications by the national closing date of Sunday 31st October, although Kent extends this to Monday 1st November. The co-ordination then spreads across county boundaries to take in cross-border applications, in a gigantic data handling mechanism.

The most important news is that last year, whilst just 70% of Kent families were awarded their first choice school, this was an exceptionally low figure, caused by a one-off change in the application procedure because of Covid, the norm is nearer 80% and I would expect something similar for 2022 entry. Unfortunately, Medway does not issue this information, but I believe it will be higher.  

Around half of all K & M families will apply for grammar school places, with the results of the Kent Test due out next Thursday 21st October. The Medway Test results have already been sent to parents, with the outcomes of the Review process to be posted on 22nd October.

I am currently updating all the relevant articles, but even those still to be tackled can be highly relevant, although they may be up to a year out of date I am afraid. I am also preparing my article surveying 2021 appeals outcomes, although you will already find the data for every school that held appeals this year in my Individual Schools sections for Kent and Medway.

There is also a list of all the key sections, with a link to them, on the right-hand side of this page, followed immediately afterwards by a link to become a subscriber to my news and blog items as they are published (no charges, no unwanted advertising).